The Elephant’s Friend
“Suwanna helped us to set up the ecotourism community. We elected a management team, and I became the leader of the forest rangers. I still live and work in the forest, but I no longer set traps and fires: I remove traps; I put out fires.”
It was never easy to survive on what we could collect from the forest, but year by year, we managed. I grew to be a young man, skilled in forest life. With the end of war, roads came, and the roads made our lives harder, not easier. Loggers and traders moved in, buying our wood and animals to sell in the capital, and abroad. People took more than they needed to survive. Loggers cut every resin tree for wood. Traders killed many tigers and elephants. Animals became scarce. The forest had survived the war, but could not survive the peace.
The lady, Suwanna, was the leader of Wildlife Alliance. Suwanna said she would give us jobs; we would no longer need to go to the forest. We were to become an ecotourism community. Nobody knew what this meant. Even when Suwanna explained it, few of us believed people would want to visit our forest. Nevertheless, Suwanna was right!
Every year, more visitors come to Chi Phat to enjoy our mountains, streams, forests and wildlife. Now, 250 villagers are guesthouse owners, guides, cooks, boat drivers, bicycle mechanics, waste collectors, or rangers like me. We all still earn a little income from farming and fishing, but now, when times are hard, or our children are sick, we have an income, and no longer need to go to the forest.
Sokhem Kuon, Cambodja